New Delhi, July 1: The human resource development ministry is rooting for reforms in higher education though some of them could be challenged by sections both inside and outside the ruling United Progressive Alliance.
This is not the first time the ministry is talking of a need to slash subsidies in higher education. Senior officials in the new dispensation, however, are now saying this must be done even at a political cost.
“It is like reducing subsidies for rich farmers in agriculture,” an official said. “They work like a political lobby that can successfully stall any move to reduce subsidies that are to their benefit.”
The proposal to tax rich farmers — which every government at the Centre tinkers with — is never given form or substance because of pressure from a strong lobby of these farmers.
The officials point out that the system of cost of education in the West is the reverse of India’s. “In the West, people pay much more for higher education and less for primary education,” an official said.
In India, the cost of school education, particularly in non-government public schools, is exorbitant. But college and university education is cheap.
“We have students driving down to Delhi School of Economics in their Maruti cars and paying a pittance for their education,” a scholar said.
Since 1993, when liberalisation was first brought in, Delhi University colleges have raised fees. But advocates of reforms say more needs to be done.
The concept is to invest more money in primary education; the government says a reduction in higher-education subsidies will add to its resources.
One possible way of reducing subsidies is to add a user tax like in electricity. The UPA government has already promised an education cess to raise resources for primary education.
HRD minister Arjun Singh would, however, have to tread a fine line between his reform agenda and the Left, which is supporting the Manmohan Singh government from outside.
The Left is opposed to raising the cost of higher education as well as having foreign direct investment (FDI) in primary education. Both issues are on Singh’s agenda.
“We will talk to the Left. There has to be a discussion,” Singh said about the ally’s opposition to FDI in elementary education.
His colleagues in the HRD ministry are confident of persuading the Left to slash subsidies in higher education. “I am sure they will see the viewpoint,” an official said.
So far, the Left has not shown any indication of lowering its guard on these issues.
B.S. Baswan, who took over as higher education secretary from S.C. Tripathi today, said the common minimum programme would be the blueprint for education policies.
The programme is silent on higher education though it states its position on primary and professional education.